Why I am optimistic about the future

Many folks are depressed. Many people I know are withdrawing from social media, unable to process the discourse. Unfriending is going on en-masse, even between people who have been friends for years. Alas, some folks are withdrawing from life completely. 1 in 3 people in the US are on some form of anxiety or depression medication, which apparently is not working. Teen suicides are up 70% over the last 10 years in the US. That's a catastrophe that no one is talking about.

We fear terrorists at every turn, even though deaths by terrorism are lower than drowning in your swimming pool, and far less than deaths by lightning strike. We fear those that are different from us. Everyone is out to get us, to take our jobs, to take away our way of life. This is not a Trump thing. This trend far preceeded his appearance on the political stage. In this country we have become intensely tribal. You're with us or against us, you're a redneck Trumper or a snowflake liberal, my way is right and damn your own opinions.

We don't listen to anyone anymore. When once our centers of learning were beacons of enlightened speech and debate, now professors are fired for using a trigger word, contraversial speakers (read as someone whose opinions differ from mine) are banned from college campuses. We don't want to listen to others' opinions. We block them, unfriend them, and sink further into our bubble universes where the only voices we hear are those like us.

Around the world, nationalism is seizing votes – if not power – in almost every democratic nation. People are fed up. They are getting a raw deal. Their politicians are not representing them, but are instead looking out for their opwn interests, or those of special interest groups (read as those with donation money). People are being displaced from Syria, from Venezuela, from Central American countries. Even in the USA, people get poorer, the rich get richer and the middle class is dying.

It's a horrible picture isn't it? Depressing just to read all that. It seems to many that civilization itself is unravelling.

But the future will be bright.

In no way do I want to trivialize recent events, that is not my intent. It is incredibly serious when some of our most staunch democracies are teetering on the edge. Some days it feels like we are one protest away from full-scale riots. It really does feel as if our way of life is threatened, and we are right to fear that. Humans do not react well to change. We dislike uncertainty. Since the early days of prophets, soothsayers, astrologists and other sages, we have tried to predict the future so that we can become less afraid of it.

Humans are incredibly bad at two things that are applicable here: Risk assessment, and context.

Risk assessment: We fear terrorists yet drive our cars every day on roads where tens of thousands of people die every year. We fear immigrants taking our jobs, while the rich reduce our pay and shed workers without hesitation in the name of profit. We fear people different from us, but every human, whatever race or religion, wants the same thing – to be able to live and support their family. We believe every person with a gun is tomorrow's mass-shooter, while millions of people use their firearms responsibly. It's actually more realistic to assume every car on the road is out to kill you, or that every visit to McDonalds may lead to your death. Statistics regarding traffic accidents and health-related diseases would back up both those cases!

Context: Contrary to what most people believe, crime is significantly down since the 70's and still falling. Immigrants commit less crime than Americans. Poverty worldwide has been on the decline for decades. 98% of terrorist killings take place in third world countries.

And taking context at the macro level, humans have faced enormous trials over our history, far greater than the doom and gloom we seem to revel in today. The Black Death killed off a third of the population. The Dark Ages were horrific. Floods, storms, catastrophic volcanic eruptions that blanketed the world with ash clouds, and two world wars. The little ice age, or Maunder Minimum, nearly led to the destruction of the world's crops.

So why am I optimistic?

Because humans are resilient, incredibly so considering how short term our thinking is. We are resourceful, adaptable. We can tolerate enormous suffering to a point at which we seem to come to a consensus that things must change, and we affect that change. You can see this change coming if you look closely. Nationalism is an ugly front for citizens that have had enough, but under the ugly approach lies a truth that people are tired of the status quo, tired of the way their government does business. Don't get me wrong, I'm not supporting neo-fascist attempts to seize power, purely pointing out that the persons that can redirect that populous surge in a more creative direction will achieve much. More people in the US have taken part in peaceful protest rallies than since the 1960's probably, and those marchers are from all walks of life. Students are beginning to opt out of the viscious trap of student loans in return for a degree that becomes worth less and less. Instead they are travelling, learning trades, or engaging in the portfolio economy (gig economy) and doing their own thing, starting their own business. Similarly, they are opting out of the huge status-symbol houses with a noose of a mortgage in favor of tiny-house living, off-grid living, or nomadic lifestyles.

These latter points might not seem relevant, but they indicate change. People don't like the existing system and seek to change it the best way they know how, by doing it themselves. Think what could happen if the majority of the country decided a vote of no-confidence in their government and voted them all out of office? It can be done. You don't have to vote for these people. If there isn't a suitable candidate in your area, find one, or become one! I applaud every young person now entering into politics, because they see the way the old-school did it and reject those ways, and seek to do something better. Likewise, if we, as a nation, insisted on term limits for politicians, they might worry less about their jobs and spend more time working for we the people.

On a different tack, stop being part of the divisive culture. If you unfriend or block people or refuse to talk to someone whose religion or politics doesn't agree with you, YOU are part of the problem. Hearing opinions we don't like can be painful, but it is vital to a healthy civilization. Don't throw away the wonderful First Amendment. Only by listening to our opponents can we learn and identify where they are coming from. You'll be amazed how much common ground we all have if you take the time. And I mean listen, not just wait for them to stop speaking so you can argue or ram your own opinion down their throats. Everyone I speak to wants to heal the divide. The only way you can do that is to understand and not dismiss. Why does that person like/hate guns? Why does that person fear immigrants? Why does that liberal want to spend my tax dollars on healthcare for all? We have to understand each other. Only then can we find common ground and begin to heal.

This is a phase. It is a crucial learning period for humankind. I know that we rarely learn from our mistakes, but we do modify our behavior. This too shall come to pass, as the saying goes. I believe that the most central core of humanity is a gregarious one. We want to be together. We only need to learn how to do that respectfully and peacefully, and as each challenge occurs – and there will be others – we face it, solve it and move on. We may not agree, we may not love each other, but we should at least learn to respect one another, whatever our beliefs. Once we have respect, we are halfway there.

I'll leave you with this. A few years ago I took a photo in a Denny's diner. An old, fat white guy was having breakfast with a black kid, and they were laughing and chatting. THAT is the core of humanity. Recently I saw a picture online of a Muslim woman wearing a burka smiling and laughing with a rough-looking bearded guy with an AR-15 strapped over his shoulder. These 4 people are humans, people, more alike than unalike. People are not sterotypes. Get to know the real person inside before you judge them.

These 4 people are why I have faith in humanity. Please stop fearing everything, and affect the change you want to see for a bright future for us all.


Feel free to discuss below (I have to approve comments because of ad-spam), or find this post on my FB feed.



Blogs ‘n’ YouTube

Hey folks, I thought I'd share some interesting travel-related blogs and YouTube channels that I follow:


Ester has decided to live on a houseboat on Lake Union, Seattle. Follow her journey.

Follow Eli, who in her 50's decided to take to the road on an endless road trip with her cat, and she hasn't looked back. Such a great adventure and awesome photography too.

Another great travel blog, lots of Europe and elsewhere.

You Tube Channels


Two brothers travelling the world. Great video quality as well as tons of advice about what to see and travel tips. They've even started making VR movies.

Wolters World

Quick travel advice for countries and cities all over the world. I watch every video but alas, they're nearly all just talking heads with a few travel scenes thrown in. But the advice is solid.

Sailing SV Delos

Absolutely hands down the best sailing video channel ever! A bunch of fun folks circumnavigating the world over the last 7-8 years on a 53' Amel Super Maramu 2000. Go back to Episode 1 (and we're up to like 188 now) and watch them in order to see the evolution of the adventure and the crew. The early videos were primitive but stick with it because now they are some of the best videographers in the business – totally pro-broadcast quality.

Sailing Yacht Ruby Rose

Nick and Terysa sail a 38' Southerner monohull, and have travelled from Europe, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, and are now heading to Bermuda and back across the Atlantic to Europe. Lots of fun and travel videography, and as a Brit, I like Nick, since he's English and curses a lot. ?

Gone with the Wynns

Jason and Nikki are great adventurers. They started off touring the USA and Canada in an RV, and those videos are very informative if you're considering the RV nomadic lifestyle. A couple of years ago they bought a Leopard catamaran in Florida, learned to sail it (!) and meandered through the Bahamas, down to Panama and Equador, and now plan to cross the Pacific. Great, fun travel videos (it's not all sailing!) with their 2 cats.

Sailing La Vagabonde

Riley and Elayna are an Australian Couple who've been on a round the world sail for years. Currently they're sailing a Outremer catamaran, having gone around the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, but they started on a 45' Beneteau monohull. For the best experience, go back to Episode 1 and watch them all in order.



Readers: What authors really want from you

Photo courtesy Angela Brown, friend and author

Photo courtesy Angela Brown, friend and author

Readers, what do authors want from you? Ha, that’s an open-ended question isn’t it?

I bet you answered “to buy all your books.” Yes, that’s true. Most of us desire to make a living from our writing, not so much to be stinking rich but enough that we can make writing our full-time career. That’s a win for readers too, since we can write more books.

You may also have said “to write awesome 5-star reviews.” Yes, please. I’ve spoken about reviews before, and we all know that lots of good reviews sell more books.

By now,  you’re thinking more like an author and might offer “to promote your books and tell all our friends.” Ding. Ten points! Word of mouth is much more powerful than even reviews. Reviews are the opinion of strangers. When you recommend a book in person, that endorsement carries significant weight because you (presumably) know what your friends like to read. How often do you not read a book when your BFF tells you “OMG, you just have to read this. I stayed up all night to finish it!” Authors dream of readers becoming such passionate advocates of our books.

Taking these three points as a given, what authors really want from readers is feedback and comments. Note that this doesn’t mean flattery and singing our praises because our latest book is “a complete masterpiece”. It means honest, down-to-earth and personal contact. You see, most writers don’t write to be rich or famous, we write because we want people to enjoy our stories. Hearing from readers is the high point of our days. A good review is nice, as is a post on Facebook or a tweet about liking one of our books. Even better is a personal message, a comment on our web sites or an email. Obviously I can’t speak for all authors here, since some don’t like to approached in such an intimate form as an email, but many of us love it. Even just a few words means a lot to us. That you went out of your way to comment or email is not something we take for granted.

Maybe you just want to say you enjoyed our book. Maybe it resonated with you in some way, reminded you of someone or that you found the theme or symbology meaningful. Perhaps there was something you didn’t like. Personally, I like to hear that too. Perhaps you wanted more mystery, more romance, or you just want to hear more about a particular character. All feedback is great. As authors we spend months or years creating something and then we throw it into the world for others to enjoy. The worst thing for us is to hear crickets. Did we move you, make you laugh, make you cry? Did you fall in love with a character, or hate a villain so much that you cheered when he got defeated?

Historically, authors have cultivated an aloofness I think; someone we readers fawned over at conventions or book signings. Or maybe it was just too difficult to engage with an author in the days before the internet or social media. Most authors I know today, love chatting with readers. Remember that all authors are readers too, and we love talking about books, yes, even – shock – other people’s books!

You have a chance to shape our future books too. Writing is fast becoming a collaborative effort in that if we know what types of books, settings, characters, or situations you prefer, we can tailor our future work. Tell us which of our books you liked best, and why. I’d like to know if more readers are interested in a sequel to Ocean of Dust than Necromancer, or vice versa. I like to think that’s a win for readers too. Many authors are collaborative in this way. It’s fun.

So, dear reader, there is a solid reason that we display our email address (or a contact form) on our web sites, and have social media profiles – to make it easy for you to contact us. Please do! Don’t be shy.



Orbis: My charity of choice

orbisCharities are a very personal thing. Each of us chooses to donate for a variety of reasons. Often we assist an organization that affects us or our families, typically someone close that suffers from an ailment or perhaps died from it. Many people gravitate to such medical charities, or perhaps to humanitarian efforts around the globe, such as Red Cross or  Médecins Sans Frontières. Animal charities are always popular, be it WWF or the ASPCA. I could list classifications of charities for pages and pages, but we all understand the value of assisting or donating to one or more – we all feel the need to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

Like many folks, I donate to several, but today I wanted to bring light to my favorite charity. I find many folks have never heard of Orbis, not that I blame them. I certainly could name few of the tens of thousands of charities world wide, with so many folk giving up their time and money selflessly to help others.

Orbis international, formed in the 1970’s, works to restore sight and prevent blindness within 3rd world countries. Their devoted doctors do this not only through countless surgeries but also by providing hands-on-training and public health information to the countries they frequent. Furthermore, they advocate for improved facilities and technology. Since 1982 they’ve carried out programs in 92 countries, enhancing the skills of  over 300,000 eye care professionals and treating over 23 million patients.

They operate their own aircraft, a completely refitted DC10 airliner called the Flying Eye Hospital. Check it out. It is flown by a rotation of airline pilots that offer their piloting skills for free, flying the FEH to anywhere it is needed, allowing the eye specialists to work in the hi-tech labs and operating room on board.

I’ve been donating to Orbis for decades. Eyecare has always been close to my heart, having had myopia all my life, and now presbyopia in old age. I use a computer screen for my day job and for my writing and I treasure my eyesight accordingly. LASIK helped for 10-15 years but it fades as a person ages. Thankfully I have no sinister issues with my eyes but it moved me to hear of countless millions of people in poorer countries, particularly children, who have cataracts or other eye diseases threatening blindness.

Thank you eye care professionals and pilots at Orbis, as well as the support staff that keeps the organization working. Sight is a marvelous gift that you bestow upon your patients.




What annoys me as a reader

As a writer, I’m fairly forgiving of books that I read; fully appreciative of the long hours, sweat, anguish, mood swings and sheer number of hours required to write a book. I hope that few readers take books for granted. Writing is hard work and takes a lot of time. Knowing this, if I spot flaws in a book, I am lenient and always willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt.

That said, here are my top 7 peeves as a reader:

  • Plot believability: Readers are smart. They will spot those huge holes in your plot. They will scream at the page “Why would she do that?” or “All he had to do was…”. The classic example of this is demonstrated in Hollywood B-movies where everyone in a haunted house splits up, or the girl walks into the dark cellar by herself without a light. If you can’t make your plot work without making the reader groan, then go and rework the plot. Deus ex Machina is the term that comes to mind here.
  • No info dumps please: Don’t be a lazy author. Please take the time to dribble your backstory and setting details as the book progresses. Work those details in naturally. Let the reader discover them bit by bit at a moment that fits the scene. Don’t vomit all that information at me in a ten page description. I don’t need to know the full history of every character the instant you introduce them. It’s far more interesting to learn about how he/she nearly drowned as a kid, at the point in the book where the adult character has to take a boat somewhere. Now you have tension and emotion. Similarly, just because you did weeks of research on horses, or armor, or the pine forests of Canada, that does not entitle you to info dump all that research: “Lumber mills in Canada began in 1721, when…” Yawn!
  • Don’t slack off in the middle: Most books I read, slump in the middle. Great start, big bang of an ending but yawn-yawn in the middle. Don’t stop the momentum. Don’t pad the middle. Go back and cut the slow stuff and make the middle more exciting. You can’t coast until the climactic ending. Put in more twists and turns, reveals, plot twists, etc. Make it fun.
  • Give me a neat ending: Don’t concentrate so much on the big bang ending that you come to an abrupt “The End”, leaving the reader wondering what happened to that poor guy left in the cell in Chapter 4, or the missing magical goat, or did those two minor characters hook up in the end? There should be an aftermath at the end to wind things down and tidy up some loose ends. You don’t have to answer every single thing, but resolve the major issues. This dovetails with “Deliver on your promise” (below). If you are writing a series then you clearly have more leeway to leave things unanswered. That said, as a reader, I like every book in a series to have a good clean ending just in case I don’t read the next book.
  • Cut the mundane: Every scene should advance the plot, or reveal character or setting. If not – chop it. Some authors put in mundanity for the sake of realism, but no, I don’t want to read about that uneventful ride through three kingdoms to get to the capital city, if nothing relevant happens. Don’t have two characters head-to-head in dialogue about the weather because “that’s what real people would do”. Don’t describe Mary putting on her makeup, having breakfast, getting into and starting her car unless it reveals something about her character. Just start with her racing out of the driveway, late for an important engagement.
  • Deliver on your promise: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” – Anton Chekhov. Don’t trick the reader by introducing the promise of an action or dramatic scene, and then it never happens. Of course red herrings are allowed, and plot twists occur, but they must make sense. If you don’t want the rifle to go off, then fine, but explain why not. (It’s a fake, it isn’t loaded, in the heat of the fight, the old man can’t reach it, etc.) There was a Hollywood movie (that I won’t name) that had a man chased by a stalker throughout the entire movie, finally going man to man at the end in the classic fight. Then, at the last minute, a cop rushes in and shoots the stalker. No! Don’t cheat me of the hero besting the stalker. If the cop is a valid part of the plot, then that’s ok, but foreshadow that, don’t just have the cop come out of nowhere.
  • Show don’t tell: This is one of the commonest author fails. So much so that every single writer has done it, and some continue to, to a greater or lesser degree. Give the reader something dramatic to read. “Mary was sad”. Ok, but such a lost opportunity. “Mary’s shoulders drooped, and she blinked back tears, chewing her lip to prevent it from trembling.” A little flowery, but you get the point.

I see these errors time and again in books that otherwise are fantastic reads. What are your pet peeves, dear reader?



Just Do it

I trust everyone had a super Holiday time, and we still have New Years to come? I’ve been sick since Christmas Eve and have achieved very little except wallow in self-pity. Tamara says that men make the worst patients. I won’t disagree. It has given me plenty of time to catch up on TV (including my yearly ritual of watching the Everest series), and more importantly, to think.

This is the time when we all make resolutions for the coming year. We dream big and hope we can actually pursue those dreams through the end of January let alone the whole year. Most of us fail. I applaud those of you that succeed. After studying goal motivation theory for even an hour, it is easy to see what makes a good resolution. We usually succeed when it is something we genuinely desire, rather than something we feel obligated to do. This is why diet and exercise resolutions rarely work. If we had really wanted to get in shape or lose 50 lbs we wouldn’t need to wait until the New Year to resolve to do it next year. My last year’s resolution to write more was easy – I was super excited to do that and it required very little motivation.

Sometimes though, we do have a genuine desire but procrastinate. That’s me, I’ve been a big procrastinator all my life (but I’ll fix that next year :)). There are many causes of this condition and a common one is fear, the fear of trying and failing or falling short. It is easier not to try at all. One single resource almost cured my tendency to procrastinate: Feel the Fear and do it anyway. A great read. I caught myself bowing out of several things during 2013 due to fear, most of them things that I really had wanted to do, such as an author speaking engagement. I lost opportunities at work too (though others might not have noticed as keenly as I). Clearly it is time to refresh my “cure”.

I’m not picking a resolution for 2014, I’m picking a mantra. I intend to post it at my desk and in my home office and assert it to myself whenever fear or procrastination sets in. Theoretically I can achieve a dozen resolutions with this simple mantra:

Just do it!


What are your resolutions or mantras for 2014?



Do you review books?

KindleLet’s talk about book reviews. Do you review books?

Many people don’t. Some folks have grown up in a culture where professional critics review books or movies, usually in newspapers and magazines. It’s easy to forget that social media gives us all the power to influence others by writing a review. Other people just don’t feel comfortable writing a review online. They don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, don’t know what to say, or just flat out can’t be bothered.

There is some debate about the validity of online book reviews. Recent years have revealed cheating, where specific authors have gamed the system by paying for good reviews. These cases are (hopefully) isolated and we shouldn’t discount reviews because of them. Other readers disregard the first dozen 5-star reviews of a book, assuming they are written by family and friends. This “front-loading” effect has less of a bias as more reviews are left. It’s unlikely that all 100 of those reviews were written by friends and family. I’m sure every reader has a gut-feeling for how many reviews make a valid sample: 20, 50, 100?

Another debate: Is someone more or likely to review a book  if they absolutely love it or hate it? Hard to say. One could argue that naysayers are more eager to get their opinions online, as can be seen by “trolls” and “flame wars” if you follow any topical thread on social media; but I’m not sure this effect carries across into book reviews. I would argue that there are many more 5-star or 4-star (overall) book reviews than 1 or 2 star, or maybe those bad books just disappear into obscurity? There are too many factors at work to tell. Better books get more visibility on Amazon, in the form of sitting higher on the Top 100 and Top 10 lists or being recommended to people who read similar books. This suggests that better books tend to rise to the top, pushing bad books out. What about all those books in the middle with an average of 3-stars?

I’m more more likely to review a good book, both to reward the author and to encourage other readers who might enjoy it. I have given 3-star reviews, but if the book is terrible then I rarely review it unless I can be constructive. That’s me. If most people are like me, then yes, reviews are biased.

Do you judge a book by reviews? Most “experts” talk about the “gun”. This takes the form of a lot of 5 and 4 star reviews (the barrel), and a tapering number of 3, 2 and 1 (the gun handle). This is what you would expect of a good book. A lot of good reviews, a reasonable amount of so-so and just a few haters. You’d probably read that book. What if 90% of the reviews were 3-stars. Clearly the book doesn’t stand out, but neither does it suck. In that circumstance you probably want to actually read individual reviews. Many people have commented that even bad reviews do not stop them buying a book, as long as those readers explained what they didn’t like. Maybe you don’t care about the same things. “Lots of typos but a great story“: Would you read it? “Great action, not enough romance“: All depends on what you enjoy, right?

See how you can leave a bad review and it not be devastating? I always encourage people to leave a review, preferably on the major players like Amazon, iBooks, GoodReads, etc. Or all of them! Not only can you help other readers decide if the book is for them, but authors REALLY appreciate reviews. They do help the recommendation engines like Amazon and give our books more visibility. We’re not Stephen King; we need more readers. It needn’t take long either. At the very minimum, please give books a star-rating. That’s anonymous and very easy now that most ebook readers will prompt you at the end of the book. It takes 2 seconds.

I don’t know what to write“: Fair enough. Keep it simple. You don’t have to be a New York Times reviewer and get all pithy or artsy. Just say what you liked. Say who would enjoy the book. Example:

Loved the characters and how they outwitted the bad guy. The twists and turns kept me turning the pages. Read this if you love spy thrillers.

Simple. Effective. Here’s another:

I rooted for Helen all through the book. So glad she found the right guy in the end. Super book. I wish there hadn’t been so much swearing and F-words though.

That’s fair, and warns easily-offended readers not to waste their money. Authors won’t hate you for saying that. Better for the reader not to waste their time and money and maybe pick up another book by the same author, than to read it, get upset and leave a bad review.

Of course if you want to wax lyrical for several paragraphs and go into detail, then great. Authors and prospective readers will love you for that. Sometimes it’s good manners to warn up front if you are going to give out spoilers. You should be reviewing the book, not giving the whole plot away and ruining other’s enjoyment.

So… do you review books? Do you pay attention to reviews? Let me know in the comments.



Don’t drive like an ass!

freewayIf you didn’t know, I’m a dilettante student of urban planning and transportation efficiency. Forgive me, but sometimes I like to rant about gross inefficiencies I see in the urban transport sphere. This is one such post. :)

I’m sorry Americans (especially Californians), but there is a reason many interstates are either at a standstill, or have 6 lanes in each direction, or both of these factors – it’s because Americans have almost zero lane discipline. Yes, you! If you travel the highways of Europe then you’ll understand. Many 3-lane European highways can carry the same capacity as a 6-lane freeway in the US. There are 3 primary reasons:

1.   Traffic on your average US freeway does not stay right, despite signs of encouragement. If you want to go faster than the car in front, pull out, overtake and, assuming you are are now ahead of the slower traffic, then pull back in. Why? Because it keeps lanes open for faster traffic to pass. If the slowest two lanes are moving at 55 mph, everyone else who wants to 65 mph or higher can easily pass. This allows everyone to get to the destination at the speed they prefer. If you tend to pull onto a freeway, move right over into the fastest lane and stay there, you are holding up traffic that wants to travel faster. You may feel like you can pick a lane but you are just being selfish. Why should you care? Because tomorrow you might be the person that wants to go faster but can’t pass the traffic doing 60 mph in every lane. This is a case of “be a team player and everyone wins”. Don’t be selfish! I’m not suggesting  you pull back in after every car, forcing yourself to change lanes every twenty seconds, nor am I suggesting you stay in the slow lane where traffic is entering and exiting; just that you be sensible about it. Always think: Can I travel at the speed I want in the next slowest lane for at least a few minutes? If so, do everyone behind you a favour and pull over.

2.   This follows right on from #1. If every lane is traveling at a slower speed than most of the cars behind, then people are going to attempt to weave through traffic. This is dangerous for everyone. Passing on the inside is dangerous. Don’t make freeways any more lethal than they have to be. In Germany for example, inside-passing is illegal on many highways (as are many forms of distraction like eating and drinking, but that’s another post). This makes the road safer. If it’s safer, everyone can go faster. This is why they have some of the highest speed limits but also the safest roads. Win-win!

3.   This animal is the  most annoying perpetrator of #1, the self-righteous ass who believes it is his prerogative to do 55 mph in any lane, even the fast lane. He won’t pull over and may even slow down if you try to harass him from behind. What an ass! He could be single-handedly reducing the efficiency of the entire highway system for miles. He’s also raising the blood pressure of people behind him, making them more agressive and unpredictable. Why do you do that? I’ve never understood that mentality. It’s far better to graciously pull over and let the faster car pass, and if it makes you feel better, not only do you not have someone riding your rear-end, but that person is far less likely to cut you off in retaliation when he does get past, probably inconveniencing some other innocent driver on the way. Further more, let the faster car zoom ahead – you just might find him at the side of the road getting a ticket. Isn’t that more satisfying than him beeping and flashing his lights behind you?

Be gracious too. If someone wants to move into your lane ahead of you, for Pete’s sake let them, don’t speed up to fill the gap. That’s being an ass! One more car in front of you won’t make much difference, and he might just be transitioning your lane on the way to another, such as the HOV lanes or an exit ramp. Don’t you hate it when people do that? Then don’t do it to others! Usually the person entering the freeway legally has the right of way, as long as they are merging at the speed of traffic, so let them in before they run out of entry ramp and cut someone off, because it might be you.

Come on, people. We’re all trying to get somewhere, so play nice and everyone gets to their destination faster and more relaxed. It’s stunningly simple, I don’t understand why it isn’t part of new driver education.

Do you disagree? Do you like being an ass? What’s your pet peeve on the freeway. Comment below…




Are self-publishing and ebooks destroying our bookstore heritage?

BarnesNobleThere has been considerable press for years about what effect self-publishing and ebooks are having on our literary culture, be it bookstores and libraries or even literary masterpieces themselves. I’m sure you’ve all heard the rhetoric that allowing “normal” folk to publish whatever they want with no agent or publisher to act as a gatekeeper for quality, will result in a deluge of crap flooding the markets. On the face if it, it’s a valid concern; no one wants to wade through junk to find a gem of entertainment, any form of entertainment.

Ebooks and self-publishing hit mainstream consciousness about 5 years ago, give or take. Ask yourself: Do you find yourself buying dross time and again and being unable to find anything decent to read? I would hazard to guess that this is NOT your situation, or indeed anyone’s. Survey after survey have shown that the single most important factor influencing whether you buy a book is word of mouth. Did your family and friends enthuse about it? Have you read dozens or hundreds of reviews recommending it? There are far too many books in the world for you to just pick one up on spec, with no reader feedback, and decide to try it. How often do you do that?


This, of course, makes it much harder for we, the new authors, to make our mark. We represent that last scenario: an author you’ve never heard of with little to recommend us. But even as an author struggling to reach a wider audience, I argue that this is ok. Really. Respect is earned. With every book I write, first a couple of hundred, then thousands of readers will try me out, like what they read and review my books favorably, and – hopefully – tell all their friends. It’s an apprenticeship system. Sure, some debut authors break out big, but for every one of them, there are likely 10,000 of us slowly building our reputation. It forms a self-filtering system to keep out all the crap that doomsayers are so concerned about. If I write crap then who will buy my next book? Who will recommend it? It’s literary Darwinism.

Over the last year or two, Scott Turow has dished out considerable damnation of self-publishing and ebooks, claiming they are destroying our literary heritage. Turow, for those unfamiliar, is the President of the Author’s Guild. I won’t even try to debunk his fanciful naysaying here, suffice to say that numerous writers more eloquent than myself have done so: Barry Eisler, David Gaughran, Joe Konrath, Forbes magazine. It does seem as if, far from representing all authors, large and small, as you’d expect the head of the Author’s Guild to do, he is simply trying to preserve the old way of life for the elite bestsellers paid substantial sums by publishing companies.

No, I’m not going to trash publishers, agents, nor traditionally published authors. I just happen to believe, like a growing number of authors, that self-publishing and ebooks simply ADD to our literary heritage. Having already debunked the “more-is-crap” myth above, then having more books, more authors, more ideas in more formats can only be a good thing for everyone. A very good thing. This is what freedoms are all about: seek an agent and a contract with a large publisher, or do it yourself. Is one better than the other? No. Is one easier than the other? No.

A couple of weeks ago, James Patterson, yes THE James Patterson, took out a full page ad on the rear of the NYT Review, in which he stated ,in no uncertain terms, that self-publishing and ebooks are destroying bookstores, libraries and the very concept of classic literature! Wow. The sky is falling! He went on to suggest that the government bail out the publishing industry like it did the auto industry. **Speechless**. Patterson is a damn fine author, but I just lost respect for him. Here’s his defense of that ad in Salon.

Didn’t we hear similar arguments when music moved to MP3′s and iTunes? Wasn’t that supposed to destroy our rich culture of music and fill it with crap, destroying the industry? And, yeah, it did. No wait, no it didn’t. Music today is vibrant with an eclectic mix of major bands, solo artists, garage bands and Indies, and the consumer is sucking up content and reveling in the choice. Sure, we no longer see gargantuan music stores like Tower and Virgin but does that really matter?  OK, one can probably prove that ebooks are leading to the closure of big-chain bookstores, and we can argue that bookstores are different than music stores, because there is that culture of wandering around, touching books, drinking coffee and reading in easy chairs. But there is absolutely no reason we can’t enjoy that today if companies would simply embrace change and adapt. What’s wrong with wandering into Barnes & Noble with your ereader, sinking into a chair, downloading samples of books to try, while sipping your latte? As for boutique, used bookstores, they will likely remain for decades to come, in the same way that vinyl music stores do. Some bands are even releasing new material on vinyl for the discerning audiophile. I’m sure there will always be a demand for gorgeously produced books, maybe first or special editions and omnibuses. Those little mom and pop bookstores are likely to survive longer than the big chains, and that’s a good thing. In my experience, the little stores are run by bibliophiles for the love of books, whereas chains are run for pure profit.

Amazon always seems to be the scapegoat for claims that ebooks are destroying paper books and bookstores. Ask yourself just why this “demon of literary destruction” called Amazon became so popular? Could it be that their prices were more reasonable, their selection greater, and the fact that most people probably don’t want to traipse down to their bookstore – they want to download their book right now, while they are reading in bed or in the garden? If people didn’t want Amazon’s services, it wouldn’t be the giant it is today, as simple as that. It is part of the human condition to lament “the good old days”, but that doesn’t always gel with our actual actions. Amazon moves with the times too – it embraced ebooks and then self-publishing, and, again, these things have become so rabidly popular among authors and readers because that is what people want.

I’d love to hear what you think? Are self-publishing and ebooks destroying our literary heritage? Is it all going to end in tears and a sea of dross, or a new era of choice and fresh talent?



The St. Patrick’s Day Green-Eyed Monster

StPatrickHappy St. Patrick’s Day everybody!

We just got back from a visit to our local winery, Orfila. OK, not the typical beer-swilling venue you’d expect for today, but after wine tasting we had a great picnic with bread and cheese, and yes, I had a great Irish Stout to wash it all down.

I didn’t have anything Irish to write about today (what with being an English/Norwegian Viking and all), but let’s talk about green. Consider the Great Green-Eyed Monster!

So much of our western culture is unfortunately based upon jealousy. Think about it – mass marketing is basically the art of convincing us that our lives are incomplete without ‘x’ or ‘y’, and that we should be the first in our hood/block/street to have these things, outdoing our neighbours. It’s an instant gratification society. We want things now, and then we want to flaunt them. In turn, we all secretly wish that those we flaunt them to will be a teensy bit jealous. Look at my new sportscar / 60″ TV / computer / RV / House / Boat. Consider that flaunting is of no value other than to make someone else jealous, and to feel inferior to us.

Material objects are not the only things that we get jealous about. We can become envious of someone’s position, either in society or corporate life. Why do they have seemingly endless success and we do not? But is that really how we want to measure success? Are we jealous of someone with more children, or who take exciting vacations, or people that retire early, or have the lifestyle we dream about? I’ll grant that a certain amount of envy and competition spurs us forward, gives us something to aim for, provides role models; but we all know that the Green-Eyed Monster is not that gracious. He breeds resentment.

I want to focus on a particular form of jealousy that we writers are highly susceptible to, more so in the new age of Indie Publishing. Almost every writer I know has suffered an attack of the GEM, often on a regular basis. You’ll find a lot of posts about it. We all know it is flawed thinking, but sometimes we just can’t help ourselves. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Look at her, her first book took off like a meteor and landed her on the bestseller list. My first book was better but my sales are languishing.
  • Why does he have so many followers on Facebook and Twitter, and authors and readers alike visit his blog in droves?
  • How does he write so fast? How on Earth can he write two good books a year, and it takes me 3 years to write one.
  • Why are her characters so deep and full of emotion? I’ll never be able to write like that.
  • How does he sell so many books with so little marketing, when I spend 3 hours a day marketing and just can’t gain an audience?
  • What did she do to get 300 reviews on Amazon? I’ve had to fight to get a dozen in the same time period.
  • How does he write such clever plots? Mine seem overly simplistic.

Last month, I had just such a bout of jealousy when it seemed that everyone around me were churning out books – good books – and yet I’m such a slow writer. How would I ever carve a niche for myself among such prolific authors? I sat and analyzed my feelings, and realized that I wasn’t really threatened by those writers so much as simply languishing in self doubt. I was revisiting my regular feelings of inferiority as a new author. So I set out on a fact-finding mission and determined that all the folks I felt inferior to were more experienced writers than I, had been doing it longer, often did not have a full time job as I did, and that while writing fast was a skill they had developed, they were perhaps deficient on other skills, skills that perhaps I had, but had taken for granted. I then found many more examples of writers in the same boat as I, with jobs, and only on their first book. Their audience numbers and sales very closely mirrored my own. I guess it wasn’t just me after all. Luck also plays a major part in this game. You never know when word of mouth, a particular marketing campaign, review, or giveaway might launch your book to another level. We all advance in our craft at differing rates. The market changes every year too, so its just one big scary unknown out there.

I forced myself to focus on the other side of the GEM, the other side of jealousy: Use other writers as role models, celebrate their successes, use them to inspire me. This is much easier when most writers are incredibly humble, and will be the first to admit that they don’t know the reason for their success, other than that they just kept writing the best books they could. And I am inspired by other writers, for if they can do it, then one day, if I work hard and listen well, then I can too. We aren’t competitors, we are peers, always eager to help each other.

Will I succumb to a visit by the GEM again? For certain – it is human nature, but I know that is me that I should work on, it is my subconscious that is the enemy, not those other writers.



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